Lots of entrepreneurs reach out to me because they want to raise funds, and I am happy to interview them. When they pitch, they spend a lot of time talking about their market; their product; why they think they will succeed; and why I should fund them.
While all these are important, the one question I ask all of them is, “Which book are you reading right now?”
Many entrepreneurs are surprised by this query. What does this have to do with their ability to found a successful company? Why should this influence my decision to fund them?
A surprisingly common (and disappointing) answer is, “Oh, I have been too busy to read a book for a long time.”
I think this is a red flag, because I believe every entrepreneur needs to be a learning machine – you have to be flexible, agile and nimble, so you can respond to changing circumstances. The only way to do this is to be curious and humble, and be willing keep an open mind so you can absorb wisdom.
Reading is the best way to be able to learn a lot. You can learn from history; biographies; and first person accounts of successful founders. You need to keep on top of what is happening – not just in your domain, but in other industries, and in other parts of the world as well.
As a CEO, you will need to learn a lot of stuff on the job – how to manage employees; how to write a business plan; how to negotiate with vendors; how to sell to customers; and how to find the emotional resilience to deal with the daily ups and downs of a startup.
These are the bread and butter problems which will confront you daily, and unless you read, how are you ever going to be able to do all of this?
As the CEO, you are the chief everything officer, and you need to learn this stuff, even if you don’t need it right now. The most cost effective way of doing this is by being an avid reader. Reading provides the best ROI on learning – and it sets up a positive virtuous cycle. The more you read, the faster you will learn, and the sharper your mental models will become.
Books are inexpensive, and thanks to Amazon, everyone has access to pretty much any book. I love the fact that they make learning so democratic, and think of them as being a great equaliser. You don’t need to attend IIT or MIT if you want to read a textbook – you can absorb the information it offers on your own! A well-written book can form the core of your knowledge-base, and you can then build on this using supplementary materials such as podcasts, videos and online courses.
Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. I know successful founders like Branson have a reading disability, but they have been able to use other strategies to compensate for this shortcoming. If you don’t have a disability, then what’s your excuse for not being a voracious reader?
My final question is – Which book would you recommend I read so I can understand more about your field? This way, I get to learn a lot too!
Dr Aniruddha Malpani is a consultant IVF specialist, who runs one of India’s leading IVF clinics at www.drmalpani.com, along with his wife, Dr Anjali Malpani. They have founded HELP, the Health Education Library for People (www.healthlibrary.com), which is India’s first Patient Education Resource Center. He has authored many books, including: How to Get the Best Medical Care; Successful Medical Practise; Using Information Therapy to Put Patients First; and Patient Safety – Protect yourself from Medical Errors which are available for free at www.thebestmedicalcare.com. His passion is patient empowerment; and he believes that using Information Technology to deliver Information Therapy to patients can heal a sick healthcare system. He is also an active angel investor (www.malpaniventures.com).
(It was first published on LinkedIn).
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